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SALT LAKE CITY — Spice. It sounds harmless enough. But according to a national drug abuse treatment agency, there's been a sudden spike in people seeking help for addiction to the so-called "synthetic marijuana" that was banned a year ago by the Utah legislature.
Drug treatment experts say it can have devastating effects on the brain. According to a local drug treatment program, they've treated several spice users lately who were seriously addicted, suffering severe psychological symptoms more like meth than marijuana.
None of that comes as a surprise to veteran drug enforcers. Police have raided stores that sell it. But police say more smoke shops are springing up and "spice" is still widely available.
"Not openly," said Sgt. Scott VanWagoner with the Unified Police Narcotics Diversion Unit. "But you can buy it over the counter if you know the terminology to use and if you know which stores are carrying it."
Sgt. VanWagoner said many people still don't realize how bad spice can be. The amateur chemists who make it start with leaves resembling marijuana and spray them with chemicals that supposedly mimic marijuana's effects. But a buyer never knows exactly what the chemicals are, nor how heavily the leaves have been sprayed.
"People that are regular marijuana users would rather use marijuana than this stuff just because of the bad trip that users are indicating this stuff gives them," Sgt. VanWagoner said.
He also indicated that psychotic reactions do happen, similar to meth. He recalls an incident at a local restaurant when workers fled because a spice-using customer was behaving strangely.
"He was talking to people that weren't there," VanWagoner said. "And they were very fearful of what his next reaction might be."
VanWagoner said the legislature did some good by banning spice, but it sure didn't stamp it out. He'd like to see tougher federal regulation of the chemicals involved, to make it harder for street chemists to get their raw materials.